9 Brilliant Tips That’ll Help You Wash Your Dishes More Effectively, According to Camping Experts

published Jun 17, 2022
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washing dishes

Dishwashing is an important — but sometimes annoying — part of life in the kitchen. One way to deal with this grimy-yet-essential chore? Find new ways to make scrubbing down your dirty plates, pots, and pans more efficient, without skimping on the results. 

To get the best tips on efficient dishwashing, we turned to camping experts who spend time cooking, eating, and scrubbing without the amenities of an entire kitchen. Here are nine helpful tips we learned that you can easily use in your own kitchen.

Credit: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn

1. Only cook what you plan to eat.

Rule number one: Unless you’re planning on freezing food, be conservative about how much food you prep. Whenever she’s camping, Meredith Strodel, founder of Hammock Living, only cooks what she and her crew plan to eat. Making less food not only prevents waste, but also means fewer dishes and utensils when it comes time to clean up.

2. Clean your plate.

If you don’t want to waste time doing dishes, start your own family’s clean plate club. Michael van Vliet, co-founder of Fresh Off The Grid, suggests letting diners serve themselves so they can appropriately portion for their appetite. Use resealable containers to preserve leftovers, and then scrape as much food solids and sauces into the trash (or compost if possible). 

Credit: Sarah Crowley

3. Use a grease-fighting dishwashing soap.

Proper tools are essential if you want to spend less time in front of the sink. Strodel recommends choosing a soap that cuts through grease (like this biodegradable soap) and a sturdy scrubber that gets the job done quickly and efficiently. You can also use a plastic pot scraper to remove stubborn, caked-on food, especially on cast iron, according to van Vliet.

4. Use an extra wash basin.

A wash basin is usually the only sink you have while camping, but van Vliet says they can come in handy at home, too. If you have a two-basin sink at home, great! “Otherwise, you can use a collapsible silicone wash basin to help prevent water from needlessly running down the drain,” he says. 

5. Start with the cleanest dishes.

Without access to unlimited running water, campers are super strategic about which dishes they wash and when. Strodel suggests always starting with the cleanest dishes and saving the dirtier stuff for last. That way, your dish water and sponge will stay cleaner longer, and you’ll end up wasting less water in the process. 

To do this, you’ll need to scan your dishes first to figure out where to start, but typically, van Vliet says, sequencing goes like this: drinkware, silverware, plates, serving containers, cooking utensils, and then cookware. 

Credit: Erin Cavoto

6. Pre-soak!

If you have a particularly messy pot or pan after cooking, add a bit of hot water to it when you start eating. Strodel then adds a drop of soap and lets it sit over the camp fire before scrubbing, but you could put yours over low heat on the stove. “This pre-soaking will work wonders when it comes time to scrub,” she says. 

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7. Take care of dirty dishes as soon as you can.

Doing the dishes after each meal (or even progressive cleaning during a lull in the cooking) can make a huge difference at a campsite and at home. “It’s much easier to clean when food hasn’t had a chance to dry and cake onto things,” says van Vliet. 

8. Allow your dishes to air dry.

Strodel prefers the air-dry method in the wilderness because it cuts down on overall chore time. Typically, she sets up a small towel nearby and lets the dishes dry in the sun or overnight naturally. But if you’re not up for leaving your dishes to drip dry, Strodel recommends using a small microfiber towel as an efficient drying tool.

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9. Make it a group activity.

Don’t just leave one person to handle the task of doing all the dishes. Instead, make it a group activity. One person can prep the plates, another can wash, kids can dry, and then someone can put everything away. Many hands (and a little conversation) can turn an unpleasant chore into a quick little party in the kitchen, suggets van Vliet.  

How do you wash your dishes efficiently? Tell us your tips in the comments below.